For more than 2 decades, our family has lived outside of the United States. Our home is complicated. When we’re overseas, we tend to refer to the US where our extended family lives as our home, but when we’re actually in the US it doesn’t feel like home. Instead we wait for the opportunity to travel back to another home that we will never belong to.
All of that to say that we can confirm the Bible’s teaching that this world is not our home. (Hebrews 13:14-16) When we come back to visit the US, the months and sometimes years of absence make the changes in this country that we love a lot more pronounced. When we’re overseas, the US fades into the background. We continue to be aware of things at some level (and especially since our kids moved here), but we just don’t live in the day to day US drama.
We arrived in the US this time in November after two years abroad. We came back earlier than we originally planned, but in God’s timing we’ve been here for the last 4+ months. Several things have been especially striking during that time as we take note of things that are different than before and from our life abroad. This article will talk about some of the things I’ve noticed the most as an outsider/insider to the American life.
We’ve not watched news regularly for going on 25 years. I read headlines on the internet and if a story interests me, I like to take the time to read enough to find out what is really going on. In the US, even though I don’t seek out watching the news I sometimes find it on in front of me. This can be when I’m visiting someone’s house and most recently, when I’m working out at the gym.
The same goes for broadcast television. The only time I see the commercials the average TV watcher sees is when I’m in the US. For the last few months, I’ve watched sports broadcasts, a few tv shows and just a bit of news and I have the following observations:
- Pharmaceutical companies must have an incredible amount of money because they advertise everywhere, especially one very large, very rich company that gained an immense amount of money the last few years. This should tell us that those companies (TV stations, news and entertainment programs and social media/technology companies) are beholden to the people who pay many of their bills. This is especially striking because the US is one of the only countries in the world that allows pharmaceutical companies to advertise. (New Zealand is the other one)
- The Covid-19 vaccines are pushed constantly via all these platforms. This is just in your face all the time. The advertisements are one thing, but I was very surprised to see newscasters and talk show hosts talking about it and pushing it during their programming. Given what has come out (though not reported) regarding financial connections, I assume the motivation for this is primarily fiscal.
- Sports has moved away from non-sports related messaging. Sports is usually something that brings people together. My entire life, I remember fans of very different backgrounds experiencing true joy as they come together to root for their favorite team. During my time at the University of Oklahoma, I have many fond memories of playing and watching sports with friends from the dorms and around campus. Sports brought us together. When we were here before in 2020, sports seemed like it was being dominated by political messaging. The sports I watch the most, basketball and football, seemed especially loaded with it. The last few months, I watched some of the NFL playoffs, the Super Bowl and I’m currently watching March Madness, as well as an NBA game every now and then. This may have happened slowly over time, but it’s striking how most of the things that made sports divisive in 2020 seem absent now.
- The media seem to chase one silly diversion story after another. It is fairly common that a national or international story of some importance comes up and is either ignored by the media and buried within 24 hours in favor of something like: Johnny Depp/Amber Heard, Super Bowl halftime show outrage, Will Smith slaps Chris Rock or anything involving the former president. I feel like the media is constantly saying “Look over there!” to get people from paying attention to more important stories.
- If a news story fits a narrative that whoever is in charge wants to push, it is immediately pushed with almost identical headlines and talking points on every outlet. Supposed “competitors” all running the same headlines. It’s kind of creepy.
- Some stories that seem incredibly relevant, get almost no coverage. Here are a few examples:
- Inner city violence that results in the deaths of many innocents, usually children from a minority background. Maybe this isn’t reported because it isn’t seen as news. Almost any night you can find someone murdered or killed accidentally by gunfire in these types of contexts. The majority of these involve illegal weapons and gang activity. I never see this reported, but these lives matter dearly to those involved, especially when innocent children are caught in the crossfire. One of the people I follow on Twitter tracks children killed in inner city shootings. It’s heart-breaking, but ignored by anything but local media.
- Increasing, debilitating drug use seems like one of the biggest issues for our nation. The flow of illegal drugs, especially fentanyl is having a devastating impact (over 150 fentanyl overdose deaths a day in 2022). This doesn’t seem to concern the media or our politicians to any great degree.
- Mental health of youth – I occasionally see headlines related to this one on the internet, but I’ve yet to see it talked about as a concern by our leaders or as an emphasis on media by talking heads or the main voices out there. We’re coming out of the most difficult period for mental health, especially for youth, in the history of the modern world. Everyone had their lives disrupted from 2020-22, but none more than children/youth. This has had a horrible impact as shown by rising overdose deaths and suicides.
- Insider trading by politicians. They regularly engage in buying or selling off stocks using information gained by their knowledge and sometimes by their very own policy decisions. Truly insane that this is allowed and not reported on.
- Most news programs report perspectives, not news. They use inflammatory language to define differing views and the people who share those views or ignore their ideas all together.
- There is very little debate. Ideas are not challenged or rebutted. Instead the dominate form of argument is labeling those you disagree with, belittling them and labeling their perspectives. I never hear any evidence presented to actually counter perspectives, they are only dismissed or suppressed. The art of reasoned debate is not practiced.
In person observations and interactions with real people:
- People are tired of all of the Covid conversation. People want to move on, but find it difficult. Reminders come up constantly even though most people are not practicing any different behavior in their regular lives. (Note: my in person interactions have occurred in NM, Texas, Oklahoma and Missouri)
- Some people are bouncing back and doing well with interacting in person with people again, others not so much. Maybe it’s the perfect excuse for our introvert friends, but some people seem to be staying fairly disengaged. In my own circles, there are few of these. Most people seem to be enjoying engaging in face to face social interaction as they did before. This is also reflected in public events. I attended a basketball game and a musical and they seemed the same as they did pre-Covid.
- People are really pretty nice and kind. There will always be people who engage in bad and even criminal behavior, but most of the people you deal with in person are kind and friendly. A big contrast to what you see on social media, which might lead you to believe most people hate each other.
- Unfortunately, some people don’t care what is true. They only care about supporting whatever take their tribe has on the issue of the day. There seems to be very little intellectual curiosity to pursue the real story and the truth behind the sound bite. I wrote about this 3 years ago. 😦 People are much more divided by the national conversation that is being pushed by their information stream than actual real disagreements with people in their communities.
- Many people are very distracted. There are so many entertainment options whether it is streaming media, video games or other leisure activities. Silence is missing from most people’s lives.
My general impression is that people still know how to get along when they’re together. There are many things that unite people: common interests in things like the arts, sports, church and hobbies. These draw people together and allow them to interact without conflict. The goal of politicians is to make everything about politics, because if everything is about politics then they are more important and they have a reason to meddle politically in every area of our lives. There are trends in our country to make it less safe, less stable, poorer and overall a scarier place to live in. Who wins in that scenario? Not you and me. Probably the people who want us to be dependent on them for everything.
I know this was a different type of blog than I usually write. I hope you’ve found it interesting. I would love to hear from you. Feel free to comment or send your feedback.
2 thoughts on “Outsider Observations”
We are not avid TV watchers, but recently began binge watching a particular show as well as some football games, and we have had the very same observations.
Oh my gosh Chad you and I must think alike! I totally agree with your observations. I quit watching the news because our church’s discipleship program suggested a media/news fast. It was during the presidential election where George W. Bush won but only after a lot of vote recounts. I haven’t watched the news since then and I have got to say that was one of my better decisions!
I sent your article to my girls can’t wait to get their thoughts on it.